THE Borders could soon have its first political pressure cycling group.
Volunteer Tony Houghton has set up the Berwick and Borders branch of the national cyclists charity, CTC.
He said: “The aims are to promote cycling generally and run social rides and set up a group of people who get together and enjoy cycling. More seriously, a lot needs to be done for cycling, certainly on the English side of the Border, a lot of investment is needed in cycling infrastructure and that really does need a pressure group.”
Money is available, says the retired management consultant, but the will is variable.
“There’s a real wodge of European and government money but we’re not taking advantage of it. It’s all about macho engineers wanting to spend big budgets on road schemes. Cycling projects are seen as a bit girly and not for a man. My degree is in civil engineering and I initially worked as an engineer, I know the ethos – engineers are really not switched on to investing in cycling.”
But he says the Borders is relatively progressive about providing routes for cyclists, though he believes there is more work to be done, citing the example of cycling out of Kelso.
“It’s really a problem, there are very few easy ways out of the town for people on a bike without using a main road. There are plans to use the old railway line but it helps to get plans like this moving forward if there is a local group of cyclists pushing for it.”
There are economic advantages to catering for cyclists too he says. The region is part of the longest trans-European bike route (6,000kms) from Shetland to the top of Norway.
“The national cycling groups who converge in the Borders could be developed into a sustainable form of tourism which is the way forward.”
Mr Houghton went on: “There are all sorts of benefits.
“The Borders has immense potential as a cycle touring destination and we will work to develop this potential and promote cycling in the area.”
Edinburgh, he says, “has a lot of cyclists and they do form a pressure group and you do start to get things done”.
It’s what he wants for the Borders and Berwick: “That’s my pipe-dream”.
“There’s an enthusiasm for doing things, even at a micro level, like ‘we could do with a crossing to get us from this road to that one, a farm track that could be used’, that kind of thing.
“My grandparents used to cycle, well into their 80s, they got around, they didn’t have cars: we need to get back to that, for health principally but also for environmental reasons.”
The local group met for the first time earlier this month when 19 people completed a return ride between Berwick and Eyemouth averaging about 10mph.
“It’s about leisure cycling, not getting your nose on the front wheel and going as fast as you can,” said Mr Houghton, adding: “I’ve always been a solitary cyclist, it was the first ride I’d led and my first social ride, and I enjoyed it.”
A member of CTC for more than 10 years and now 67, Mr Houghton, who has two grandchildren, has been cycling since he was 11 if not younger, touring mostly, cycling in France, Holland and Scotland.
The group came about after the neighbouring Lothian and Borders CTC group secretary noticed there were many CTC members in the Borders and not much being provided for them locally. He asked for volunteers to set up a local branch last summer. Mr Houghton decided to step up over the new year.
Berwick and Borders CTC’s next ride, which is free, is a circular outing from Kelso to Melrose along parts of the Four Abbeys Cycleway on Sunday May 15 and all cyclists are welcome to ride the 37-mile route with stops for coffee at Harestanes and lunch in Melrose.
Cyclists will leave Kelso’s Mayfield car park at 10am. For more information contact Mr Houghton on 01289 332247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org